Globally renowned Pakistani orator and presenter Zia Mohyeddin breathed his last today (Monday) in Karachi. He was 91 years old.
Born on 20th June 1931 in erstwhile Lyallpur (Faisalabad today) to a polymath father Khadim Mohyeddin, Zia Mohyeddin spent his childhood years in Lahore and Kasur. Khadim Mohyeddin was reportedly the first ‘professor of music’ at University of the Punjab. His father’s penchant for writing plays and lyrics obviously intrigued Zia, as he himself enrolled at the UK’s Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, studying there from 1953 to 1956.
The character of ‘Dr. Aziz’ in the play “A Passage to India” became synonymous with Mohyeddin, who was cast in the role in plays at the West End (1960) and Broadway (1962), and then on television in 1965. Mohyeddin’s big break came when he played the role of the guide ‘Tafas’ in the 1962 epic “Lawrence of Arabia”.
In the late 1960s, Mohyeddin returned to Pakistan and started working at the state television channel Pakistan Television (PTV). It is there that he hosted the hugely popular television talk show, “The Zia Mohyeddin Show”, from 1969 to 1973.
The show is widely remembered among boomers and aficionados for Mohyeddin’s song segment, where he would rap after his trademark phrase ‘zara theka lagaiye‘.
Mohyeddin became director of the PIA Arts Academy in 1973, until 1977. He returned to the UK as Pakistan fell into the throes of General Zia-ul-Haq’s martial law. During the 1980s, Mohyeddin worked in Birmingham where he was a producer for Central Television’s weekly magazine programme “Here and Now” from 1986 to 1989.
Even while working in Britain, he told a reporter that he missed Pakistan dearly; that it was his home country, and that he missed his friends and the people of Pakistan.
He continued his association with PTV in later years, presenting shows and special telecasts, and also hosting religious ceremonies during the holy Islamic month of Muharram, where he recited mournful elegies.
Mohyeddin travelled the world, exposing global audiences to the magic of Urdu poetry and prose through his mesmerising recitations. During his lifetime, he was considered the foremost orator of Urdu literature. Zia Mohyeddin had the unique ability to channel his voice and tone to not only capture, but also express the emotions and sentiments of every verse and couplet that he recited.
Mohyeddin is also famed for his readings of letters and literature, including missives from some centuries ago where philosophers and poets would discuss religion along with worldly matters in a humorous vein, such as Muhammad Ali Rodolvi’s letters.
Zia Mohyeddin was celebrated as a media icon in the subcontinent, and was very popular in India as well. He was a regular fixture at the annual ‘Jashn-e-Rekhta’ conference, where his Urdu oratory enthralled audiences young and old.
Mohyeddin is credited with introducing younger generations to the beauty and profundity of both Urdu and English literature. The epic works of Ghalib, Faiz, Rashid, Faraz, Manto, and multitudes of Urdu poets have been brought to life for modern audiences thanks to Mohyeddin’s powerful voice.
In the early 2000s, Zia Mohyeddin also presented PTV’s version of “Who wants to be a millionaire”, a short-lived project that did not continue despite Mohyeddin’s brilliance as host and presenter. In February 2005, Zia Mohyeddin established the National Academy of Performing Arts (NAPA) in Karachi, of which he had been president since.
According to sources, Zia Mohyeddin was married thrice, and is survived by three sons and a daughter among other bereaved family members, and a heartbroken Pakistan. May Almighty God bless him with eternal peace.
Inna lillahai inna alaihai rajaoon. A true pride of Pakistan.